DOC SAVAGE: THE LAND OF TERROR by Kenneth Robeson
The Land of Terror, alternately the second book and the eighth book in the long-running Doc Savage series, was one of the most sought-after books in my small town when I was in seventh grade. Two of my buddies and I looked in every used book store and spinner rack we could find for a copy of that elusive book back in the day. When one of my buddies found a copy in a nearby town, I was definitely envious.
The James Bama cover from the Bantam Books series in the 1960s showed Doc Savage battling a Tyrannosaurus Rex with one of his special machine pistols. That cover was a favorite of ours until we discovered Doc Savage #6 (Bantam) The Lost Oasis, which was actually #7 in the original pulp run. See how much fun it can be to be a Doc fan? You know stuff like this.
I remember finally getting my hands on a copy of that book a couple months later, and it had a tattered cover which bummed me out until I was able to replace it years later. I sat down and I read it eagerly. By that time I’d read some twenty-odd Doc Savage books (they were coming out monthly at the time, same speed as comics).
I remember thinking it wasn’t as good as it should have been. I mean, it offers clues about Doc Savage’s background, dinosaurs, and lots of action, but it just wasn’t as good as the others. I hadn’t re-read it since. But now I’m slowly working my way back through them, trying to regain that since of wonder that has eroded before I knew it. I can’t recapture that same experience, but I have a foot in the Doc world and a foot in my childhood while I’m reading them again.
This one really isn’t as good as the later Docs, and I think it’s because Doc is really bloodthirsty in this one. At the same time Docs were coming out, so were Shadow and Spider novels, and they were definitely violent and deadly. But Doc, you see, develops this code of not killing unless he absolutely has to. He captures criminals and ships them upstate to have their brains operated on so they never do anything criminal again. (Yeah, that would be a field day in today’s courts!)
In my re-reading, I grew irritated at the plotting, Doc and company ended up at a pirate ship THREE times before they finally moved on. Lots of stuff was happening, but I got tired of retracing my steps. Back in the day, though, Lester Dent (the first Kenneth Robeson) had to write a novel a month in the series and he often wrote others and short stories as well each month. Plus, pulps didn’t have to make a lot of sense. They just had to plunge a reader through a story. Even the younger me wasn’t totally happy with that, but I realize now that Dent (all of 28 years old at the time and not very worldly) was still learning his craft, banging away at it daily.
I also felt (both times) that I got short-changed on the dinosaur action, which comes really late in the novel. By that time I was reading Burroughs a lot too, and the Pellucidar novels had whetted an appetite for prehistoric action, which wasn’t too available at the time.
Also, Dent was usually pretty good about hiding villains, but in this one the guy might as well be wearing a sign.
Regrettably, I didn’t enjoy this novel as much as I wanted to (in either instance), but I had an okay time overall.